Everyone is talking about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (I am no exception, I've a bit of a rant brewing) but I have found a much more accessible little revolution taking place in our own little corner of the web.
Michelle Stern, who owns a cooking school for kids, writes at What's Cooking, does community outreach for DOOF, and is about to sign a deal for her first cookbook has been taking on school lunches in her school district and making inroads. (Michelle was also the tech editor for Picture Yourself Cooking With Your Kids so I am especially proud of her.)
Michelle's approach is a straightforward one that many people would be able to make work in their own school districts. . There have been two meetings so far and there are already changes being made to the food being served at the school. After only two meetings. Take that, Jamie Oliver!
Michelle's first move was to write a letter to a few other families whose kids attended schools in her local school district. In it, she spoke of her concern for not only her child, but also for the kids from low-income families who have little choice but to eat school lunches. She included the link to an informative video by Ann Cooper to provide additional background on the issue. She also asked people to help enlist other parents in the cause.
Her objective was clearly stated: "We need to gather together a group of parents (from all SR city schools) who will be willing to go to the district, speak up, and demand change." As a kicker, she noted other local schools that had listened to parents and made significant changes in their school food programs and this: "our principal supports better food at our school but says that parents are the ones that need to speak up."
Great opening salvo!
She explains the issue succinctly, shows her concern is for all of the kids in the district, and clearly explains what's next. (Within a few days, comments on this post included a representative from the school district and others with substantive additions to the project.)
During this meeting, the parents were given a clearer understanding about how the district manages its food service, including ordering, distribution and preparation methods. I am fascinated, and appalled, that the school kitchens are not actually certified for cooking. Yes, you read that right, you cannot cook in most of their school kitchens. Worse, the brand new "Central Kitchen" will not be equipped to cook food either.
The news wasn't all bad, though. The district is implementing Nutrikids, which will provide parents with nutritional information that isn't currently available. More importantly, the parents and district were able to find common ground in several goals:
- Reducing plastic and other wrapping materials used on food, condiments, etc.
- Offering a choice of entrée each day
- Offering a 'Garden Bar" with fruit and vegetables - supplemented by produce from the school garden, if they have one!
- Talking with parents to continue improving food choices
Again, comments on the post continue the discussion with several people bringing out specific points that they took away from the meeting.
Uh oh! Walking into the next meeting, Michelle and friends were met with a tray of 'breakfast items' from the current menu. Donuts, "honey buns" and muffins the size of a 1st grader's head shared the spotlight with tiny containers of dried fruit and nuts and sugar-filled cereals. Not exactly brain food for the small people.
Discussions of the nitty-gritty nutritional information followed with the district surprising the parents by saying they should set a higher bar for their nutritional goals. That's encouraging!
Best of all, there was some real progress made:
- Breakfast menus will now contain THREE protein choices: cheese sticks, sunflower seeds and a hard boiled egg.
- The increase in protein options means a decrease in the needed quantity of bread products so muffins will shrink to the size of the 1st grader's fist.
- Additional healthful options such as yogurt, granola, whole wheat bagels, and a healthier cereal bar will be rotated into the breakfast menu.
- No more chocolate milk! (If you are a child in the San Rafael school district, Michelle would like you to know it wasn't really her; she was possessed by her evil twin who helped make the sugary milk disappear.)
Brava! Michelle and her Mighty Band of Parental Units should be proud of themselves. Those are real changes that will impact the lives of many students in that district. Fast, too! It was only about six weeks from when Michelle the letter to that meeting.
I see some things that Michelle did really well here:
- Respected the limits of each person's authority. Michelle has wisely taken the fight to the district's food service administrators. You know, the people who can actually make decisions to change things. (Haranguing lunch ladies may make for good TV, but they didn't break it and can't fix it.)
- She enlisted a coalition of parents and got them basic information on the issues before the first meeting. This saves time and frustration for everyone and I can't help but think that presenting an organized set of arguments helped the district make changes so quickly.
- Celebrating small victories. Even in the first meeting, when things sound pretty grim, the parents find there are goals set by the district that they can embrace. I am sure the district representatives noticed that the parents were open to supporting good ideas, even if they weren't the ones who put them on the table.
Michelle is promising updates on the Central Kitchen renovation soon. Plus something called "High-Tech Burritos" - hmmm, I have worked in tech a long time and eating a CD just doesn't sound appealing, even if you wrap it in a tortilla, so I am curious as to what the heck this is!
I love that Michelle is writing up these meetings in such detail. By doing so, she can help other parents start their own lunch revolutions.
What are you doing to change the food your kids eat? Please share your ideas with us in the comments.